Name: Pieter Fabry
Nationality: United States and Belgium
University: Imperial College London
Degree: Electrical and electronic engineering
Languages spoken: English, Dutch, French and Chinese (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation in the Amazon, Ecuador
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: July 2013
Claim to fame: Served as a volunteer to rebuild a primary school in Namibia.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I didn’t exactly decide to become a UBELONG volunteer, rather I decided to continue my volunteering career and discovered that the UBELONG organization reflected the kind of volunteering work I wanted to do. In contrast to other more luxurious and expensive programs I found on the internet, I felt that UBELONG represented at the core what a humanitarian experience should offer.
Rather than some other programs that focused more on individual exploration of the country than the work itself, I felt that this program was approaching the experience with the volunteering work coming first. Additionally, the organization of the project seemed complete, so I felt comfortable that I would feel safe and relaxed during the trip itself.
What was your impact on your project?
It is hard to describe the impact that my personal contributions made on the project as a whole. This is because the work was so varied and vast that it is impossible to say that I made a significant impact alone.
However, the work done by the whole team was and still is making a impact on the conservation. For instance, I cannot quantify how much I impacted the soil we made there for plant growth, however I can say that our team made about two big batches of mineral rich soil in my time there.
The project is, and rightly so, a team work, and I think that this is important because it reflects how the problem of reforestation always will have to be tackled: Everyone taking responsibility and offering help is the only way that we together can protect our rainforests.
Being there, however, I know that there still needs to be more effort put towards rainforest conservation. Awareness and continued volunteering efforts is necessary, and as much as I felt I helped make an impact towards Amazon rainforest conservation with my physical work, I believe that the mere fact that I offered to help gives the fight against deforestation just as much support as the work I did itself.
In the end, I believe that showing that people do care and do want to make a difference gives a lot of impact, and ultimately the only way to truly stop reckless deforestation is to actively fight on a political level for rainforest protection. And showing that support was what I believed made one of the biggest differences on my project.
What is your favorite memory?
I think that my favorite memory has to be the time we set a two-toed sloth free from another organization into the jungle. This is because, frankly, that animal was extremely cute and funny. It was obviously frightened about the release (We were a large group with everyone climbing over each other to get a look at this animal that was haphazardly transported in a bucket), so we got to see the animal climb at is fastest pace into the brush, something that was pretty entertaining due to how slow its top speed was. Compared to the monkeys that we saw climbing around in the early mornings every once in a while, this mammal was embarrassingly slow.
I think that that memory will stay in my mind for a very long time, simply because it was such a awesome afternoon experience, as we watched the sloth take 4 hours to slowly climb about 20 feet into the jungle canopy and disappear.
What did you take from the experience?
I don’t really know how to describe what I took from the experience as a whole. It was my first time in South America, and apart from some organic farm work I volunteered for in Italy, it was the first time I had to do environmental conservation.
It definitely was fun, it definitely made me more aware of the environmental problems that Ecuador (and the rest of South America) has, and it definitely allowed me to meet many like-minded and interesting people. I feel a personal connection to the problem of jungle reforestation now, and hope that I can carry this message back home with me.
However, it wasn’t only reforestation issues I felt I was starting to become better at understanding. Living in the jungle without electronics, hot water, or other personal comforts just helps to show that a lot of what I have isn’t necessary to my happiness, and it really makes the consumer-based culture of Europe and America stand out. I learned about how such big projects as reforestation cannot and may never be attempted on an individual level, and how important it is to tackle such problems united. Even if it means volunteers coming and going, the small contributions can make a long term change as long as there are always people who take the time and responsibility.
Also, a lot of what I learned in Ecuador ties to things that I learned elsewhere in the world, so it is really hard to discern what I personally took form Ecuador alone, or what opinions I formulated with extra information and experiences from there. I can say confidently, however, that I felt that I took something from the experience, its just extremely difficult to formulate that into words.